It’s been a welcome return to the road for most of our members, though we are conscious that not every trainer is able to go back to in-vehicle training straightaway. However, as the majority are back in the driving seat (metaphorically at least) of their business, we’ve been advising members to have a moment or two of pause to consider their longer term business strategy to make sure the business can survive and sustain. If the COVID-19 crisis taught us nothing else it taught us about business risks, and how they can come from anywhere, at any time.
The next year at least will be all about business recovery, but also should be about growth and sustainability, shoring up the business to survive and thrive. We may be in demand now but we know from the last 12 months how vulnerable our businesses are so we should be taking every step to protect them.
Demand is cyclical and we have to consider that while it might be high now, it can also cycle downwards once the initial rush to return to learning recedes and when a recessionary environment really bites and government funding dries up.
One of the biggest pieces of advice we’ve given in recent webinars is looking to change what you charge and how you charge it, and also to look at diversifying what you offer. These can be important factors in the survivability and sustainability of a business in any operating environment.
In terms of what trainers charge, prices should be increased generally as costs have gone up – PPE, the cost of fewer pupils per day, increased cleaning. A hardening insurance market means rises in costs there too. We’re also in a market where demand is high, instructor numbers have declined so it makes sense prices should rise.
You also need to be able to make enough money to cover all the costs, pay yourself an income and be able to have, as a general rule of thumb, enough cash saved up to cover three to six months’ worth of expenses as a contingency.
Trainers also need to change how they charge and focus on developing longer term sustainable revenues versus a traditional lesson-to-lesson, hand-to-mouth existence. There are those who have continually reviewed their pricing and worked to lock in pupil revenue way before COVID but we need to see that as a widespread approach to aid recovery and sustainability. Pupils should be contracted to a minimum number of lessons from the get-go, blocks of lessons and all-in packages should become the norm to mitigate the risk of pupils and income walking away and to change the buying behaviour of our consumer.
Diversification is both a risk mitigant, and a way of growing your business. Stay in one lane, that lane becomes too crowded or gets shut off, you slow down or stop if you don’t have the ability to change lanes. We’re seeing a rise in demand for courses which help trainers diversify what they offer, with fleet training in particular being a popular course.
A final risk to be keenly aware of is complacency. I should imagine there are far fewer people saying “I’ve got a full diary, why do I need to worry?” post-COVID but as human beings we can sometimes move on and forget too quickly. The steps above will help if leaner times, heaven forbid, fall on individuals or the industry again and will arm businesses with the strength to survive and thrive. Good luck out there and remember, we’re still here to support you in good times and bad.